‘Tis a puzzlement

Posted on 18 May 2006 at 10:29pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

A spectacular disappointment, overly complex “‘Code’ isn’t worth cracking



QUEST FOR THE GRAIL: Sophie (Tautou) and Robert (Hanks, middle) encounter dastardly theologian Sir Teabing (McKellen).

THE DA VINCI CODE
C
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen
Opens today in wide release
2 hr., 34 min. PG-13

No one worships the gods of cinema more than I. Yet I manage to keep them separate from the God I worship in a spiritual sense. When I can’t distinguish fact from fiction in the movies, I err on the side of dismissing everything I see as the product of a screenwriter’s imagination.

That means I don’t take “The Da Vinci Code” any more or less seriously than “The Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson’s gore-fest aimed at the heart and gut. Ron Howard’s thriller asks viewers to engage their brains, but both films are really going for the wallet.

A thinking person’s thriller you might call it “brainsploitation” “The Da Vinci Code” is based on Dan Brown’s controversial novel which almost every literate person in the Western world has read. Being one of the rare exceptions, I can only judge the movie as a movie. And as such, I find it lacking.

While “The Da Vinci Code” isn’t likely to shatter anyone’s faith in Jesus, it will make you lose your faith in sure things. How could one of the world’s most popular directors, working with one of the world’s most popular stars, screw up the most popular book of the new millennium?

Effective thrillers are simple. A bomb on a bus will go off if it slows down. A cab driver is forced to chauffeur a hit man on his rounds. There’s a shark in the water.

“The Da Vinci Code” strives for complexity as it takes the ambitious tack of using the Holy Grail as a MacGuffin, the item everyone’s looking for and killing each other over. The grail turns out to be something other than what you (and Monty Python) thought it was.

It takes major sorting out, but it boils down to good guys and bad guys.

The Priory of Sion (good) is a fictitious secret order that protects the Holy Grail and the secret it contains. Opus Dei (bad) is a conservative sect within the Catholic Church that, in this story, is dedicated to finding and destroying the grail so the secret dies with it, because of the impact it could have on the church.

The secret, as has been widely reported, is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, who bore him a child, and his bloodline continues to this day. American symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is drawn into the struggle when a curator at the Louvre is murdered and he’s implicated.

The dead man’s granddaughter, Sophie (Audrey Tautou), who happens to be a police cryptologist, helps Robert escape. They spend the movie trying to unravel secrets while on the run from, among others, Silas (Paul Bettany), a self-flagellating albino monk who does dirty deeds for Opus Dei.

Ian McKellen adds life and levity to the film’s central hour as Sir Leigh Teabing, a self-described “old cripple” who’s obsessed with the Holy Grail for reasons that may become clear.

Unfortunately, many things may not become clear in “The Da Vinci Code.” That’s because Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay crams in so much detail. “The Da Vinci Code” is full of puzzles and riddles, which should be fun to try to solve but aren’t. One of the main ones is a “cryptex,” which must be decoded to reveal a clue a low-tech version of trying to guess a password on a computer. Besides not being engaging or audience-friendly, it ignores the fact that the codeword should probably be in Latin.

The violence, especially what Silas inflicts on himself (the S/M crowd will love it), pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. But there’s not much excitement in the action scenes. Howard and Goldsman (who previously teamed on “A Beautiful Mind”) pour on the mystery so heavily, you may still be trying to dig your way out by the end. It’s hard to appreciate when a character’s allegiance changes when we don’t understand what it was in the first place.

Perhaps the most impressive scenes are some spectacular throwaway flashbacks to ancient times.

If “The Da Vinci Code” worked, its pretensions would make it an above-average thriller. Since it doesn’t, they only weigh it down. It’s not an awful movie, but let’s hope there’s not a greater disappointment this summer.

CHARLIE AND THE SHOE FACTORY



Kinky Boots
Another English “comfort film” tells the story of an uncomfortable topic. “Kinky Boots” has a drag queen who changes the fortunes of a Northampton shoe factory and the minds of its workers.

Once the premise is established, there are no surprises on the way to a happy ending. Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) inherits the family factory, unaware that it’s about to go under.

Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts) tells Charlie as he’s firing her that the factory must find a niche market to survive. Charlie finds that niche through Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a female impersonator who complains women’s boots aren’t built to sustain a man’s weight. Soon the factory is back in business.

Knowing the drag numbers will be the film’s highlights, the writers see that Lola’s never far from a stage for too long. Ejiofor does his own singing in a deep, throaty voice and never acts as feminine as he looks. He’s pretty much the whole movie, leaving his co-stars to fight for scraps of audience attention.

Director Julian Jarrold works with the efficiency gained from a background in television.

“Inspired by a true story,” “Kinky Boots” loses points for predictability but that’s what a lot of moviegoers want. That and a good drag queen.

Steve Warren

Grade: C+
Opens today exclusively at the Angelika-

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 19, 2006.

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